Few days after an Iranian terror cell was uncovered in Lagos, security agents say they have discovered other foreign-sponsored terror networks in the country.
A top security source, who was speaking on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the issue, said the cells were sponsored by Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, although he did not disclose if the sponsors were state or non-state actors.
“Iran is just one of the countries; Sudan, Somalia and Yemen are the others. They have Nigerians trained and sponsored by them operating in this country. They constantly give their sponsors information. The Iranian terror cell is just a tip of the iceberg. Terror groups in these other countries have always told investigators that they have their spies in Nigeria,” he said.
He said that these cells were similar in structure to that of the Iranian cell smashed recently, each composed of four persons with their handlers in the foreign countries.
He added that due to the advanced training they had received, they were good at blending in with the rest of the society.
“Some of them may be your neighbours and you will not know. And the interesting thing is that they may not carry out any terror attack even if they are in a neighbourhood for five years. Some are just there for information-gathering. They get involved in menial jobs like cobbling, sewing, security and petty trading in the community and pretend to be harmless, meanwhile they are watching everybody, eavesdropping on people’s conversations and writing down number plates of vehicles. They are trained that no information is useless,” he said.
Another top intelligence source yet refusing to have his name disclosed said that intelligence reports have always indicated that terror-nations have always had an interest in Nigeria.
“They have cells here and it is not a new thing. It has been going on for years. Even Libya’s terror groups have cells in Nigeria.”
An intensive search is already underway for the cell members who seem to have gone underground since the Iranian cell was discovered.
Beyond investigating the cells, the SSS, police and immigration are also keeping watch on the nationals of countries tagged “nations sponsoring terrorism”. These countries include Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and other Arab nations associated with violent fundamentalist Islamic groups.
Several Nigerians involved in terror-related activities are believed to have been trained in Yemen, Pakistan, Mali, Mauritania and others.
The spokesman for the Immigration Service, Mr Ekpedeme King confirmed that some foreigners in Nigeria were under surveillance, while he added that the service had instructed local governments in the North-East not to issue certificate of indigeneship to anyone who could not prove he or she was a Nigerian.
“The acting Comptroller-General just returned from a tour of the North-East states and one of the ways we have decided to monitor the activities of terrorists is to monitor the people that are applying for the certificate of indigenship in the North. Some of them are not Nigerians but they collect this certificate and pretend to be citizens of this country.
“Apart from this, we have supplied more patrol bikes at the borders to monitor the people leaving and entering the country.”
Confirmation of the surveillance of foreigners in the country also came from the police, who speaking through their spokesman, Frank Mba said, “Our approach to terrorism is to increase surveillance at the borders, improve on our intelligence and tighten surveillance around some aliens. I won’t be able to tell you the nationalities of these aliens but we are doing our job.”
The State Security Service in Abuja had on Wednesday paraded a leader of an Islamic sect, Abdullahi Berende, and two others said to be members of the Iranian terror cell gathering information about Israelis and Americans living in Nigeria.
Fifty-year-old Berende, Sulaiman Saka and Saheed Adewunmi, were said to be working for Iranian terrorists planning to attack Americans and Israelis in the country. A third suspect, Bunyamin Yusuf, is said to be at large.
Deputy Director, Public Relations, SSS, Marilyn Ogar, had said Berende, an Islamic teacher and local leader of the Shiite sect, was observed to have made several suspicious trips to and fro Iran where he interacted with some Iranians known to operate a high profile international terrorist network.
In 2010, Nigerian security officials intercepted an Iranian arms shipment containing 13 containers of weapons, including artillery rockets and rifle rounds, said to have originated from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. Those arrested in connection with the incident included an alleged Iranian Revolutionary Guards member and three Nigerian suspects.
In 2004, an Iranian diplomat was arrested on suspicion of carrying out espionage against the Israeli Embassy in Abuja.
As part of the strategies to contain terrorism in Africa, the United States set up the Trans-Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative, which is being funded with $100m a year for five years.
The sum was increased from an initial $6m programme that covered Chad, Mauritania, Niger and Mali to Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria and Senegal.
Meanwhile, plain-clothed soldiers in the North are searching for the French family kidnapped in Cameroun on Tuesday and brought into Nigeria by their kidnappers.
A source in the Presidency, who asked not to be quoted because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, told this correspondent that the Ministries of Defence and Police Affairs were currently coordinating the agencies under them in the matter, with the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) also involved in the rescue mission.
The source added that the issue was prominent in a meeting President Goodluck Jonathan had with security chiefs on Wednesday.
“Soldiers in plain clothes are searching for them. We are under pressure to get the seven French hostages alive,” the source said.
Efforts to speak with the presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, on Saturday evening did not yield any result as he did not answer the calls made to his telephone lines.
But Abati had told State House correspondents on Thursday that the presidency was still waiting on security agencies for the details of the case.
Five armed men on motorcycles had attacked the French nationals when they were returning from a national park in the north of Cameroon.
Last Saturday, four Lebanese, one Briton, a Greek and an Italian were among those taken hostage by gunmen in Bauchi State.
Jama’atu Ansarul Muslimina fi Biladis Sudan, also known as Ansaru had claimed responsibility for the kidnap.
The sect in December 2012 said was to be responsible for the abduction of a French engineer, Francis Colump, 63, in Katsina State.